By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Venezuela has delayed its April 22nd Presidential elections a month to roll them into a "Mega-Election" for President as well as state legislative councils and municipal councils.
Most of the opposition has said that they were boycotting the originally scheduled April 22nd elections as they would not be "free nor fair" with the backing of the United States, the European Union, Canada and 14 other countries in the hemispheric action block “Grupo de Lima”.
As the CNE electoral board was making the announcement of the “mega election”, the national intelligence service SEBIN was surrounding the Voluntad Popular party headquarters as well as occupying the house of Leopoldo Lopez, a popular politician who is already under house arrest (after serving three years in a military prison) serving a questioned 14-year sentence for inciting a riot ("subliminally!"), in a scene that is nothing but vintage Maduro-style repression. Journalists trying to cover the harassment were arrested and released hours later.
Up until Tuesday Maduro looked defiant and set on the April 22nd date, saying during a public speech: “They (the opposition) want electoral guarantees so that they can beat me? Never!”
The Maduro-controlled CNE electoral board head rector, Tibisay Lucena, announced Thursday it was delaying the April 22nd Presidential elections to a date after the second half of May, possibly May 20.
Lucena talked a good game about guarantees for the May vote, but observers (including the United States) say no free or fair elections can be held in a country with more than 300 political prisoners, widespread censorship, heavy-handed repression that has killed some 200 demonstrators since 2014 and with individuals as well as whole political parties barred from running in elections.
As it is, the CNE is violating Venezuelan law (which mandates a period of six months minimum to organize a Presidential election): this vote will be held only four months after the Constituent Assembly asked for it, which is another violation of the electoral norm. The Constituent itself has been denounced as fraudulent by the United States, Europe, the Group of Lima, as well as the local opposition.
CNE said only political parties that fielded candidates for the April 22nd elections are invited to a “conversation” about electoral guarantees, purposely leaving out MUD, the country’s opposition coalition.
Already, the CNE and the Supreme Court, also controlled by Maduro, have barred MUD candidates and even the MUD from featuring in ballots. The main parties inside MUD such as Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular have also been outlawed.
The government has already alienated the main opposition, the same one that won the National Assembly legislative (the one recognized by the U.S.) by a landslide in 2015 and it is very unlikely that a one month delay would persuade MUD to reenter the contest, particularly after Lucena’s pointed disinvite Thursday.